The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer

I had planned to write a completely different blog post today, but something that I read intervened.  It was a post by an editor detailing how he got started in editing and what it was like.  He described the collaborative effort by writer and editor to bring a book to publication, and said that no book, even by a master writer, remained unchanged by the process.

Though I have not yet published a novel, I have encountered this writer/editor collaboration when preparing short stories for publication in magazines and anthologies – though I have to admit that several of my stories were published as-is, and the others needed minimal correcting.  This may have something to do with the fact that I am a perfectionist, and proofread my stories quite a few times before I am willing to send them out.

I know there are many writers out there who can compose a story and get it off into the mail or publish it online in a single day, but that’s not how I work.  When I have finished a story I might read over it again, but then I always set it aside for a minimum of a week or two, and then carefully proofread it.  I realize that many writers would claim that I am sacrificing prolificacy for perfection, but I don’t see it that way.  My words will never be perfect; I realize that.  And there is a point when I just have to let them go.  But before I do, I want them the best they can be – for you, the reader.  These same writers who would deride me for my lengthy proofreading process extol the necessity of having a reader, or a number of readers, trusted advisors who can catch errors that the writer is too close to the material to see.  I do not have such readers.  I would like to have them, but there is no one in sight willing to do the job – or, let me qualify that – there is no one with the time to do the job.  So I have to perform all the various tasks myself, of writer, then editor, then copyeditor, and so on.  That’s why I distance myself from the project by time before I change hats:  I want to be sure I have the objectivity to go on to the next stage of the project.

What caused me to take this so seriously was my current project:  preparing the memoir of my time on the road in the mid-seventies for publication.  I wrote the first draft about fifteen years ago, and since then I have been working on it – not constantly, of course, but in fits:  adding new material, proofreading, proofreading again, proofreading yet again, and so on.  I have finally decided to stop tinkering with it and get it into print.  When it arrives (in a month or two I hope) it will not be perfect; there will still be mistakes – but they will be my mistakes, no one else’s.  You’re going to get the raw, naked truth.  After all, what is perfect in this world anyway?  The main thing is the story.

To be honest, I catch errors in almost every book I read, even by the most well-regarded writer, even by the most esteemed publishing company.  Who cares?  To paraphrase Shakespeare (apologies in advance, Will):  “The story’s the thing, wherein we’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

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